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The MFA Chronicles: Blessing O. Nwodo 

The MFA Chronicles: Blessing O. Nwodo 

The MFA Chronicles blog series offers perspective on the experiences of Nigerian writers who are currently or have done their MFA programs, shedding light on the challenges and rewards of such a journey. 

Nigerian writers who aspire to pursue their writing dreams can gain valuable insight into the application process, program selection, cultural and language barriers, and how to overcome them.

This month, we spoke with Blessing O. Nwodo.

image The MFA Chronicles: Blessing O. Nwodo 

Blessing O. Nwodo was born in Nigeria and resides in Toronto. She holds an MFA from the Canadian University of Guelph, and served as Editor of Held Magazine. A graduate of the University of Nigeria, she was awarded Best Female Writer in 2017. Her stories have won the 2016 Nigerian Travel Story, been shortlisted for the 2021 Toyin Fálọlá Prize, the 2021 African Writers Awards, and the 2019 Lost Balloon Pushcart Prize for Speculative Fiction. She has been published in This Magazine, ArtsEverywhere, Humber Literary Review, The Common, Brittle Paper, FBOMB, Kalahari Review, and elsewhere. When she’s not relishing fashion, she can often be found pulverizing the patriarchy. She is working on a collection of speculative fiction, and a novel.

What motivated you to pursue an MFA?

I was motivated to pursue an MFA because I wanted better opportunities. Navigating the publishing industry is an onerous process, and it can sometimes feel like a private club that you need an invitation to join. The MFA was a kind of invitation. Being one of the selected participants out of hundreds of applicants, though I definitely want more people like me to be in the program, is a tremendous affirmation of my work. Especially since writers hear a lot more “nos” than we do “yeses”. I made the mistake of trying to send my work early on to busy, established writers. They barely have time for anything, why would they want to read my work? And it’s not a reflection on my abilities at all. 

At an MFA, I knew I would get to work with other talented writers and get feedback that would be instrumental in improving my craft. I would also improve on returning that feedback. It’s the ideal environment to learn about writing and publishing. An MFA is also a degree and like any upgrade, it can help you find better jobs. Additionally, I wanted to find my people. Writing is solitary and sometimes, stepping out can feel odd, like mixing kerosene with water. In an MFA, everyone is a creative, and though there are very different people from around the world, the love for the craft brings us all together. There are so many reasons. 

Another is networking. It’s like using a dating app. Do you go to various networking events, and ‘hope’ you meet someone in the writing/publishing industry, or do you go through a platform where you are guaranteed to meet the people you’re looking for, people who are there to actually help you. Life is already hard enough. And I’m an introvert. I don’t like talking too much or too often. So, MFA. 

How did you select the program you attended and what was the most challenging aspect of the application process?

Apart from being the home of terrific writers and creators, Canada seemed to have a more welcoming attitude to international students. Good old google helped narrow down my choices. The University of Guelph has the kind of teaching staff that I wanted to learn from and work with. I also wanted a program that offered a bit of funding, because getting an MFA and moving from one continent to another by myself is the most expensive thing I’ve done so far. 

A lot of it was challenging. I had to keep reminding myself of the goal. I would think, if only I can get over this hurdle, then everything will be alright. Then I get across that and find an even bigger obstacle. It was during the Covid-19 lockdown, and everything was understandably slower. I didn’t get my study permit in time, so I had to decide if I wanted to pay fees for the first semester and do it online with the hope that I would get it, and not waste money and effort. 

The time zone difference was another thing. I would work during the day and go to school at night. Dealing with constant power outages, and always buying fuel for the generator. I was a teaching assistant and was working as an Editor with Held magazine. At the time, I published a piece about this experience on Covid HQ Africa, called The Omicron Variant and the Infantilization of Africa, when the omicron variant made several governments ban African countries from visiting them. 

Who are you reading now?  

I’m reading Hunger by Roxane Gay, Subhanya Sivajothy’s Singing Fish Notation, Eloghosa Osunde’s Vagabonds, and rereading Bell Hooks’ The Will to Change which I agree and disagree with in many places, but I think is one of the books that is crucial in the creation of a world with a better understanding of love and masculinity. One that is not built on the needless physical and psychological violence meted out by the patriarchy. 

Since completing your MFA, have you pursued any publishing opportunities or writing projects that you’re especially proud of, and how did your MFA experience contribute to your success in those endeavors?

I graduated last month, and I am in the market for an agent for my work. I am proud of everything that gets published, because every success that manages to scale over that publishing wall is standing on the shoulders of a hundred rejections. Even though an MFA is a great thing, it’s not an automatic ticket to publishing. The declinations are still significant. 

However, I have published several poetry and fiction pieces this year, links can be found on my website  The most recent ones include a speculative fiction piece called Wife Material, published in one of Canada’s oldest alternative journals, This Magazine. This Magazine introduced the early work of writers like Margaret Atwood, Dionne Brand, Michael Ondaatje, Dani Couture, and so many more. I am glad to be included in that impressive lineup. I also published poetry at ArtsEverywhere, and I got to work with an illustrator to create custom images for that work.

Through the MFA, I have read at festivals and literary events, been invited as a guest lecturer to different workshops, created my own workshops, got work opportunities, have met and worked with various industry professionals, been mentored one-on-one by fantastic writers, was taught by some of the best that Canada has to offer like Dionne Brand, Canisia Lubrin, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Catherine Bush, Carriane Leung, etc,. The MFA also has the power to invite certain people from around the world, from writers to agents to publishers, that one may otherwise not have access to. 

In the context of the evolving literary landscape, particularly in Nigeria, how do you see the role of MFA programs changing or adapting to better support emerging writers, and what improvements would you suggest for future MFA candidates?

More funding please. More teaching and publishing opportunities. Writing is a lot of work, so I think that all writers, even emerging, should be paid for their work. No more of this payment by exposure business. I also think that there can be short term mentorships set up in Nigeria between established and emerging writers, because honest mentorship is so important. Emerging writers spend so much time stumbling in the dark when that could be easily remedied by a mentor. I spent so much time trialing and erring. This is an important part of the learning process. 

However, at what point do we recognise that guided study and research is an invaluable resource toward path clarity? We should also have more honest discussions about the business of writing and publishing because they are very important aspects of the writing process. 

Emerging writers may not know or be able to prepare for these things, if they do not have access to people who have already walked the path. We need more literary events, support groups, and grant opportunities. More spaces for writers to talk to other writers. I applaud the people already putting in the work to make this happen, because it’s not an easy thing to do. This series is a good example of that.

Interested in sharing your MFA experience with us? Please fill out the form here.

About the Writer: Precious Obiabunmo is a graduate of English and Literature at Nnamdi Azikiwe University. She’s the Digital Content/Community Manager at Kachifo Limited. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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